(I forgot to take a picture of the contents of this container, but imagine about a cup and a half, like I said, of pulled pork! Enough for maybe two sandwiches at lunch, and that would be fine. Pulled pork sandwiches are a nice, thrifty meal. But this amount of leftovers also enough for dinner for 8, so squirrel it away in the freezer with a little note to yourself so that you don’t have a bunch of random inexplicable containers in there for later.)
You might have a cup of leftover ham chunks or four hotdogs (cut up the hot dogs into small slices or chunks). You may have a piece of salt pork or a hunk of bacon (not sure why you’d have a hunk of bacon left over but let’s just pretend).
Now get a bag of beans. I favor Great Northern beans or small navy beans. But almost any beans will do, pretty much!
A bag of beans is very cheap. Even a bag of organic navy beans that you haven’t shopped around for is going to cost you less than $1.50. Naturally, the best way to buy beans is to get them in bulk and store them in mason jars in the pantry.
Because your meat is likely to already be cooked, as was my pork, you need to mostly bake the beans. This is so that the meat doesn’t completely cook out. In the case of bacon or salt pork, it’s fine, you can throw them in at the start.
To save a step for next time, you could bake a lot of beans, multiplying this recipe I’m going to give you, and store the mostly cooked beans in the freezer for the next time. But for now, we’ll say that you are cooking up one pot of baked beans.
This is a classic Boston Saturday supper, so on Friday night, rinse your dried beans and cover them with water in your pot. Leave the covered beans out on the counter all night.
The next morning, chop up a big onion, throw in your spices, and bring to a boil.
When everything is good and hot, pop the pot into the oven and let it bake for a few hours. When the beans are soft but not to the perfect baked point (as shown in the photo below — when completely done they will be soft and coated in the sweetness of the molasses, and there will be little water left, but when mostly done they will still have individual shape and be wet), stir in your meat with whatever sauce it had, if any (in the case of the barbecue pulled pork, it will have a nice barbecue sauce, but in the case of the ham or bacon, maybe not — doesn’t matter).
Naturally your Bad Blogger did not take pictures of all that. All I have is this poor one below. Sorry.
When another unit of time has elapsed, your beans will look like the picture, up top. Do not stress out about this timing thing. It will happen, but it’s super flexible, on the long side. Thus, you can do your chores and shopping and raking and as long as every once in a while you give it a stir and maybe add some water, it will come out fine.
Most of all, let’s just stop and think about how very cheap it was.
It’s not really possible to eat very much of it. A pot like this serves 6-8, more if they are not all hungry boys. A side of mac and cheese or baked potato would make it go even further. We had it with a kale salad (my obsession of late — so easy — just toss the cut-up kale with lemon juice, and after an hour, add olive oil, salt, and grated parmesan — not a Boston classic by any means, but very good!) and a loaf of Irish bread. The Boston way is to have brown bread studded with raisins, of course, but I find that a little too sweet, as the beans are already sweet.
Other sides would be cole slaw, oven-roasted potatoes, rice, or pasta salad. If you leave the meat out (only putting in a piece of salt pork for flavor), you can serve the beans themselves as a side dish, but for that, I just open a can (shh, don’t tell — but if you get a can of Bush’s Boston baked beans you will have an idea of how this should taste when you make it yourself. And then, when you make it, you’ll realize it’s better your way!).
This post is about making that small amount of meat you already have go very far.
The most it could possibly cost you is about a dollar a serving. I think it’s more like a dollar for 3 servings! I don’t know. It’s cheap.*
Auntie Leila, can you do it in the slow cooker? I don’t think so, although I am still wondering/researching if you can cook in the crockpot with the lid off at some point, near the end. I did see them do that on Top Chef, but there were no details. Do you ever do that?
There has to be evaporation/cooking down with a pot of baked beans. There has to be a certain amount of crusty browning on the sides. With a slow cooker you will get a sort of flavorful soup of beans.
Do you eat baked beans where you are from?
Frugal baked beans, Like Mother, Like Daughter
1 package (1 lb./16 oz.) small white beans (or whatever you have handy)
1 large onion
1 tsp. dried mustard powder
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup molasses (but in the end you will sweeten to taste) or brown sugar or combination — and maple syrup or honey is fine, but pricey.
1 tsp. salt (some people swear you shouldn’t add salt until the end, but my research over the years suggests that it’s the minerals in your water that make the beans tough, not the salt. I usually put mine in right away — you can add at the end, but I’d add in the half-cooked stage to be sure that the salt goes all the way through the beans)
Whatever leftover ham, pork, bacon, or sausage (including hot dogs) you may have (1 1/2 cups of meat cut up into chunks is fine)
Rinse the beans and pick them over (just throw away any that are broken or with spots, and do make sure you don’t have any pebbles in there). Cover well with water and leave to soak overnight. (If you forget this step, you can cover and boil for a few minutes and then let stand for an hour, but the beans will cook better if you soak them cold).
Now you are supposed to drain that water and use fresh water to cook them, but I always forget! I use the same water! Doesn’t seem to matter…
Chop up the onion and add it along with the other seasonings and molasses. Make sure the beans are covered by an inch or two with water and bring to the boil.
Cover the pot and put it in the oven at 200*. Every hour or so, give it a stir. If after four hours you don’t see much progress, you can crank it up to 300*. If the liquid is disappearing, add another cup of water. This pot of beans is going to cook all day, just so you know.
When the beans are soft but there is still liquid in there, add your meat. You don’t have to have meat at all, but it will be more main-dish-like with a little meat. Bake for another hour. Taste to see if it’s sweet and salty enough. At the end you will probably want to take the top off the pot and bake it for another forty minutes that way, stirring occasionally.
*Edited to add: For anyone wondering how cheap it is to run the oven for so long: It costs less than 20¢ to run an electric oven (the kind I have) for an hour at 350°, and for this recipe, you want it set lower than that. It costs less than 10¢ an hour for gas. So yes, cheap.